These posts on Teaching Romanticism have been intriguing and thoughtful. Thank you for putting this together!
I always find that Romanticism and textual studies are good segue into Digital Humanities for teaching and research. I began teaching at San Jose State University 5 years ago and opened with a very traditional Romantic-era survey of Romanticism. We followed the timeline, began with Blake and ended with Mary Shelley. We ranged over the slavery issue and working class poets, though there were very few of those poets being printed. The Mellor & Matlak anthology was my guide because it offered thematic arrangement of materials while still including the women poets who, I felt, were integral to the understanding of collaborative creative moments among our canonical Big 6. But, the course wasn’t satisfying. The only assignment where students actually engaged with the material at some depth was the recitation, and even then they were fearful instead of fearless and playful. Considering who I have become as a researcher and how involved I am in Digital Humanities work, I wanted to bring a sense of passion and engagement to my teaching. Textual studies and Digital Humanities seems to do that for me, allowing me time to play with the material, see patterns, extrapolate theses that haven’t been otherwise contemplated in the field. In constructing this type of course, I had to first determine what would be considered playful by my students.
In Digital Humanities circles, we often talk about collaboration between disciplines, among scholars, and with technologists. While progress in the field is nurtured certainly by this type of research, what of our students? How are we shepherding Digital Humanities to those undergraduates who could most benefit from exposure to collaborative tools or humanities computing strategies? Happily, HASTAC has been addressing pedagogy, most specifically with Cathy Davidson’s post “Research is Teaching” and the wildly successful forum “Teaching with Technology and Curiosity.”
Collaboration, shared knowledge, open access, extra-disciplinarity. These are the major tenets of Digital Humanities. However, what is missing in this list is something required of all digital projects: play. Roger Caillois qualifies this type of unstructured activity as “an occasion of pure waste: waste of time, energy, ingenuity, skill” (Man, Play and Games 2001; 6). This lack of structure, leads to exploration, discovery, and production of knowledge in ways that were only imagined twenty years ago. Typically though we don’t allow our students this sense of play in their traditional studies. Especially in literary studies, we supply students with the end-product but don’t expose them to the theories and the methodologies always. We separate those kinds of issues into other courses (e.g., Introduction to Literary Criticism or Introduction to Research Methods). When faculty bring a particular perspective, for example textual studies or feminist theory, to a classroom setting, the methods for exploring and discovering aren’t exposed to students. Instead, we’re offering them the one big major tool, close reading, for their arsenal. Students then live with some anxiety that there’s one way to read a text and, more often, ask “how does the professor want me to read this?” It becomes a guessing “game” instead of an exploration and discovery of the literature. In the final essay, we expect students to offer a discovery, a research paper, or an analysis. But, if we haven’t exposed them to the methodology and the theory, how can they adequately achieve a true exploration of the literature? In this way, the course becomes a game with an outcome, consequences, and rigid rules. Using Digital Humanities strategies, I want to instill a sense, even if it’s artificial, that literary studies are a “free and voluntary activity, a source of joy and amusement” as Caillois defines “play” (6).
To this end, I combined textual editing with technology in my Romantic Literature Survey course. We had the use of a spectacular room, filled with hardware and software everywhere:
TechnoRomanticism: We created our own digital edition of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Along the way, we created a collaborative timeline using MIT’s SIMILE & Timeline script. We didn’t even begin to create a website until some of the preliminary assignments are done — assignments that look at the construction of this novel, both linguistically and bibliographically. Every 2 weeks, we held a workshop on some digital assignment and acquired 1 new skill, not even necessarily a new tool, but a skill. We practiced radial and ergodic reading by taking on only 2 chapters of Frankenstein each week. However, we read other literature into the novel. For instance, at one point “… Tintern Abbey” is quoted in the novel, but if students haven’t had a chance to read or study this particular poem, they would have a difficult time understanding its interruption of the narrative. So, we studied the poem as we were studying that very chapter. By not overloading undergraduate students with readings, we were really able to spend an entire class meeting on both the poem and the novel’s page.
That strategy gave way to self-interruptions in constructing their digital editions — what did it mean to provide a hyperlink in the middle of a paragraph? How does it interrupt the musings on Nature, the soul and science? All of it, all of it went back to Romanticism’s major ideas.
Is anyone else performing these kinds of interruptions and collaborations in their own courses?